A swim meet was the reason for our second visit to Portland in a month (see pictures from our first trip here). With lots of downtime between watching synchronized swimming routines, we were able to get away to some highly recommended restaurants that we hadn’t the chance to try yet.
After a trip to the Oregon Zoo, the team decided to stop at Big Red’s Restaurant. While I would never have chosen a place like this if it was just us, Big Red’s provided a kid-friendly menu and was close to both the zoo and the hotel. Jennifer and I shared a salad to be somewhat healthy before what we knew would be a calorie-heavy weekend. We dropped Madeline off at the team’s hotel and went off to check into The Nines, a posh new hotel in downtown Portland. (There is a velvet rope on weekend evenings, since the two restaurants have become a popular scene.)
Following the salad at Big Red’s, we were ready for real dinner at our favorite Kenny & Zuke’s, where we both ordered our standby must-have dishes, a pastrami Reuben with chopped liver, and latkes. The portions at K&Z are huge, and always provide great leftovers for late-night snacks. The pastrami this time around was heavy on smoke, which I like a lot, but seemed to be lighter on the cured flavor. It was also a bit stringy, but maybe I got the last section of this particular brisket. (I was so hungry that I forgot to take pictures, but see the bottom of this post for a different latke shot.) I drank a Cock ‘n Bull Ginger Beer, which was good but I was looking for a super heavy ginger bite which this did not have. Nothing so far has beat Blenheim #3 HOT in ginger spicyness.
Saturday morning started with Stumptown coffee from our hotel, then we were off to Simpatica for brunch. Their brunch menu changes weekly, but always contains fried chicken & waffles as well as various breakfast stratas. I went in set on getting chicken & waffles, but was wooed by their chicken friend bison steak with roasted potatoes, country gravy, and two eggs easy.
I have always been disappointed by chicken fried steak when I order it in restaurants… until now! Although bison is very lean, it stayed tender and was very flavorful. Jennifer ordered Belgian waffles with bitter orange marmalade, creme Chantilly, and house made fennel sausage. I was able to sneak some off her plate, making a delicious combination of chicken fried steak & waffles. (Possibly better than fried chicken & waffles!)
Accompanying breakfast was more coffee and a decent bloody Mary. We shared our four-top with a local couple that seemed to approve of our eating plans, and provided us with some additional recommendations.
After Simpatica, we visited the farmer’s market at Portland State University. This farmer’s market came highly recommeded by everybody, and I can see why. It was huge, despite still being early in the season, and had lunch-cart style prepared food as well as the usual produce and local producer stands. I sampled a delicious country pate from Chop Butchery & Charcuterie and immediately bought a slice to take home.
We had a few minutes before we had to be at the pool, so we stopped at Pix Patisserie to pick up some desserts for later. We ended up with a tube of macarons and an Amelié: glazed chocolate mousse with caramelized hazelnuts, praline crisp, and Cointreau génoise topped with orange vanilla creme brulee.
From the front: salted caramel, creme de mure, margarita (tequilla, Cointreau, lime, dusted with salt.. sorry, but this was not good), kalamansi lime, blueberry, and cassis violet.
It was time to head to the pool. We ended up staying nearly five hours there, and left pretty hungry. Luckily, SandwichWorks (Kenny & Zuke’s new shop) was close! I ordered three sandwiches for first dinner. First up was the Chicago Italian beef with house made giardiniera and dunked in jus. This was spectacular! The jus was extra garlicy and the bread was still toothy even after being dipped.
The Hood River is more of a regular type sandwich, with turkey, aged cheddar, stone ground mustard, and thin sliced granny smith apple.
Popular opinion holds the meatball hero as the favorite at SandwichWorks, and I can see why. The meatballs were soft and tender, yet held their shape, and the sauce tasted like it had been simmering for hours. Meatball sandwiches are never very photogenic, but it tasted great!
For some reason, I thought it would be smart (or more likely, healthy) to go for a jog not long after consuming the sandwiches above. I made it a full 5k, but I don’t recommend exercising after visiting SandwichWorks.
Second dinner on Saturday took us to Tanuki, now one of my new favorite restaurants. Tanuki is a tiny, dark 16 seat bar with only three tables. They close around 10, and we arrived just before the kitchen shut down. Not knowing how large the plates were, and with the fact that they were out of some items, we ended up ordering light. Next time we’ll go earlier and either get the omakase or load up on more menu items. Since it was dark, these pictures didn’t come out very well. First up, two maguro shiro onigiri (spicy white tuna rice ball) and their last uni onigiri (urchin). The spicy tuna ball was really good and left me wanting more. The uni was very fresh and I would have ordered additional if they had not run out.
Next was Kyushu hamachi sashimi with true wasabi. Very fresh, sweet, and the true wasabi was a reminder of how bad the fake “wasabi” is at most sushi places.
We finished off with sake dengaku, seared wild Chinook salmon with a roasted eggplant miso puree and asparagus tip salad. This was the most assertive dish of the night, and was very substantial and satisfying.
I enjoyed the meal paired with watari bune nama sake, a fresh, unfiltered, unpasturized sake that is made from an ancient strain of rice and only in the spring. It is difficult to find in the United States because it needs to be constantly refrigerated and is considered spoiled if it stays unchilled for more than five hours. It was full of fresh apple and pear flavors, without any of the oiliness or soapiness that are associated with cheap sakes. I need to find a store in Seattle that carries this!
Sunday was our last day in Portland and was a double whammy, combining an early start with several hours at the pool. More Stumptown coffee accompanied pastries from Ken’s Artisan Bakery. Jennifer got a plain butter croissant and I got a ham, Gruyere, and thyme croissant.
Everyone seems to rave that Ken’s has the best pastries in Portland, and while they are good, they are not as good as Cafe Besalu in Seattle. The dough seems to not have as much butter in it, and the ham was too moist to be included inside a pastry. Besalu uses drier ham cut smaller, and places most of it on the outside of the pastry. On the plus side, Ken’s has a nice deep brown exterior without being too crusty. (I know I’ll get shit for this but what can I say, I like a croissant with a softer outside. I also don’t like super crusty baguettes. Ooh, disowned by the foodie community now.)
In order to make up for our lack of Kenny & Zuke’s in the last trip, we decided to hit them up once more on our way out of town. Madeline ordered latkes, Jennifer ordered a plain begal with lox and the works, and I got a pastrami burger and fries. The burger was far beyond the medium-rare that I ordered it, but otherwise was delicious with the pastrami and sweet pickles.
I also got one more “vegetable” item, Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray, the only celery flavored soda that I know of. Perfect with the pastrami!
Considering the numerous hours that we had to spend at the pool, I think we hit a good number of restaurants in this trip. At least I was able to cross off one (Tanuki) from my long standing must-visit list, and I was very glad to be able to visit K&Z’s new shop. Even after four or five trips in the last year, I have yet to go to Apizza Scholls, Podnah’s Pit, Clarkweis, Meat Cheese Bread, Evoe… the list goes on and on. Next time!
This week, I’m planning on making another batch of pastrami using slabs of shortrib meat, and I have had a request to make calamari as well as fish & chips. Check back with the asian jewish deli for that!